Choral music for easter at Lancashire college

Immerse yourself in the glories of English choral music for Easter in the atmospheric setting of Stonyhurst College, Clitheroe.Lancashire’s leading choral ensemble, Blackburn Chamber Choir, is performing “Woefully Arrayed” a concert of  polyphony for Passiontide on Saturday 23 March, at the prestigious Catholic independent school.  They will be conducted by John Robinson, Director of Music at Blackburn Cathedral, accompanied by renowned organist John Hosking.
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As well as music by Byrd, Palestrina, Weelkes, Cornysh, Purcell and Croce, the programme includes several anthems by Sir Edward Bairstow and his arrangement of the popular hymn “Forty Days and Forty Nights” never heard in living memory, with its spectacular organ accompaniment.

The manuscript of the hymn was discovered by local volunteer archivist Pete Asher in the Local History section of Blackburn Library. Pete’s latest project was to catalogue the William Wolstenholme Collection.

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William was born in Blackburn in 1865 and went on to become a celebrated organist and composer despite being born blind. His musical talents were recognised very early and he was sent to a school for the blind in Worcester. His violin teacher at the school was a youthful Edward Elgar who later became William’s amanuensis when he took his BMus at Oxford. They stayed good friends until William’s death in 1931.

Blackburn Chamber ChoirBlackburn Chamber Choir
Blackburn Chamber Choir

At that time William was living in London with his sister Maude and her family. She had become effectively his secretary/business manager. After his death Maude must have packed up William’s study and donated the resulting collection of documents to Blackburn Library. The contents were never fully indexed although the extensive musical scores in Braille were indexed by Douglas Carrington in 2002. In addition to the Braille scores the Wolstenholme collection contained some 130 works in manuscript form of which the majority were by William himself. However, a few were by other composers including Edward Bairstow.

William maintained contact with many organists and composers of the day including Bairstow. Correspondence between the two men spans a period of almost 30 years culminating in Bairstow writing to William’s sister Maude of his sadness on hearing of William’s death.

During his tenure at Leeds Parish Church, Bairstow had commuted to Blackburn and Preston on his days off to be the MD of the respective St Cecelia’s choirs. William’s frequent visits back to his home town would have ensured the continuing friendship between both men.

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"The music of Sir Edward Bairstow has long been a jewel in the crown of English Choral Music. His grumpy rejection of the top job at Westminster Abbey in favour of remaining in his native Yorkshire was typical of the man,” said John Robinson.

Part of Bairstow's manuscriptPart of Bairstow's manuscript
Part of Bairstow's manuscript

“What's less well known is that from 1907 to 1913 he spent his Tuesday nights in Blackburn, conducting the Blackburn St Cecilia and Vocal Union, and became friends with legendary blind organist William Wolstenholme. We are incredibly excited to be giving the first modern performance of Bairstow's arrangements of 'Forty Days and Forty Nights.”

Tickets for the concert, priced £12 (students and under 18s free) are available from the choir’s website:

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